The Partnership for Action against Wildlife Crime (PAW Scotland) has just published the ‘official’ 2015 raptor persecution data, including their annual persecution hotspot maps.
20 crimes against birds of prey were recorded in 2015, which is an increase on the 18 recorded in 2014. The 2015 crimes included six poisoning incidents, five shootings, five disturbance incidents, three trapping or attempted trapping offences and one case of chick theft. The victims included red kite, peregrine, buzzard, goshawk, osprey and hen harrier. Surprisingly, golden eagle isn’t included in the list. We’ll discuss that below.
Having read the press release and looked at the hotspot maps, four things jumped out at us.
First is the increase in recorded raptor persecution incidents in 2015. It’s only a slight increase, from 18 to 20 recorded crimes, but nevertheless it is still an increase. This is important to note, especially in light of a recent statement made by Tim (Kim) Baynes of the Scottish Moorland Group (funded by the landowners’ lobby group Scottish Land & Estates). In December 2015, in response to the publication of the RSPB’s 20-year raptor persecution review, Kim said this:
“Bird of prey deaths……have fallen dramatically over the last five years in particular“.
At the time, Kim didn’t back up this claim with any evidence and as the 2015 data have now been published, it’s clear why he didn’t. Basically, the evidence wasn’t there. As Head of RSPB Scotland’s Investigation team Ian Thomson says in the latest PAW Scotland press release:
“These latest figures make it readily apparent that claims of a decline in the illegal killing of raptors are wholly without foundation“.
This time, Kim isn’t claiming that there has been a decline but he still tries to diminish the problem by saying “annual variations [in the number of reported persecution crimes] are now very small“. Another way of putting it, Kim, would be to say that no progress has been made!
The second thing to jump out at us is perhaps the most concerning of all, and that’s the withholding of data relating to a quarter of the recorded 2015 crimes. If you read the PAW Scotland press release, you’ll notice the following caveat written in the ‘Notes to Editors’ section:
‘Further details of 5 of the 20 bird of prey crimes recorded in 2015 are currently withheld for police operational reasons. It has therefore not been possible to include the locations of these incidents on the hotspot maps‘.
So here’s one of the maps purporting to show all types of raptor persecution crimes recorded over a three-year period in Scotland (2013-2015). Only it doesn’t show them all, as 25% are missing. Not only are 25% missing, but also missing are details of poisoned baits (no victims present) that were recorded during this period – for some reason they’ve been placed on a separate map. So when you look at this map, ignore the misleading title. It isn’t a map of ‘All Recorded Bird of Prey Crimes Scotland – 2013-2015’, it’s a map of SOME Recorded Bird of Prey Crimes 2013-2015, just the ones we’re allowed to know about.
The purpose of publishing these annual hotspot maps and their associated data is, according to the PAW Scotland website, ‘to allow all the partner organisations to enter into meaningful discussions and work together to eradicate bad or illegal practices in Scotland‘. Presumably, because the maps and data are also placed in the public domain, the purpose is also to increase transparency and thus public confidence. What is the point of publishing a proportion of the data and withholding the rest? It just makes a mockery of the whole process. Why bother publishing at all?
The caveat in the ‘Notes to Editors’ section goes on to say:
‘The [withheld] incidents are, however, included in the figures provided in the summary tables accompanying the maps. The maps and background data will be updated, where possible, in future publications‘.
Sounds promising, but when you actually look at the summary tables you find large sections still marked as ‘withheld’:
These ‘withheld’ incidents, shrouded in secrecy, make it virtually impossible to cross reference known reported persecution crimes with those being touted as the ‘officially recorded’ crimes, which closes off any opportunity to scrutinise these ‘official’ data to ensure that incidents have not been ‘missed’ or ‘forgotten’ (we’re being kind). In other words, we are expected to accept and trust the ‘official’ data from Police Scotland as being accurate. Sorry, but having seen Police Scotland’s shambolic handling of some wildlife crime incidents we have limited confidence in their ability, either intentionally or unintentionally, to get this right.
This leads us nicely on to the third thing to jump out at us. As mentioned above, we were surprised not to see golden eagle listed as one of the 2015 victims. According to our sources, a traditional golden eagle eyrie was burnt out in 2015 – we blogged about it here. Why wasn’t this incident included in the 2015 PAW data? Or was it included and it was categorised in the ‘withheld’ category? Who knows. Do you see what we mean about the difficulty of cross-referencing known incidents?
The fourth thing to jump out was an entry in Table 5c (see above). The second line down tells us that a red kite was poisoned in Tayside in January 2015. That’s news to us. Does anybody remember seeing anything in the media about this crime? Any appeal for information? Any warning to the public that deadly poison was being used in the area? No, thought not.
The reticence of the police to publicise some of these crimes is deeply concerning, and especially when that suppression extends to details of crimes in ‘official’ reports that are supposed to demonstrate openness and transparency. Ask yourselves, in whose interest is it to keep these crimes under wraps?